Cathedral Rock glows with color as the sun sets over Sedona and Oak Creek.
© George H.H. Huey
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Cathedral RockOf all the red rocks in Sedona, this one is surely the most iconic. Its hike, however, is hardly a hike.
By Leo W. Banks
When it comes to tackling one of the most recognizable of Sedona's famous red rocks, hiking is a relative term. Sure, the first few hundred yards of the Cathedral Rock Trail qualify as a hike, and it looks easy — the trail drops into a wash before ascending on polite rock steps toward Cathedral's two jutting peaks.
After that, though, it's less hiking than crawling, belly-wiggling and knee-scraping as you climb over sloping platform rocks and up drainages no wider than your elbows.
At that point, you're doing the red-rock crawl. Expect to get dirty. Long pants are a necessity, and those with a touch of acrophobia will find their hearts going ka-bump, ka-bump while their hands and feet search crevices for toeholds, handrails or anything else to help inch higher.
Even though the distance from the parking lot to the peak is only .7 miles, the trail will challenge your legs and lungs. Those unsure whether they can safely make the hike, which the Forest Service ranks as moderately difficult, should take this test: Stand beneath the giant rocks and look up.
If it looks to be too much, it probably is. The elevation at the parking lot is 4,072 feet, and on the peak it's 4,680. That gain of 600 feet tells you more about this hike than the distance.
But nothing obligates hikers to struggle all the way to the top. Those with physical limitations can still make it partway up, stopping on flat rocks to enjoy the look back at the sage-colored hills dotted with beautiful homes, and beyond these, the area's signature red-rock formations.
For all levels of hikers, there's plenty of beauty, and almost no chance of getting lost. Rock cairns clearly mark the way, and the rocks on the trail show significant wear from the wind, the sun and the pounding of many human boots.
Don't expect to be lonesome hiking Cathedral Rock. Even on weekdays, you'll encounter people, perhaps amateur photographers seeking the perfect shot, or artists carrying sketch paper and pencils.
These beauty-hunters are usually headed to the saddle between the two giant spires. The last few hundred yards leading to this magical spot offer the only shade on the trail, a welcome bit of cool before climbing back into the high, wind-whipped sunshine.
The views are special all the way up, but become picture-book spectacular at the saddle. Except for portions blocked by the spires themselves, hikers get a 360-degree panorama of blue sky and glorious red rocks.
The view might inspire otherworldly thoughts. It did for one woman who, while walking toward the peak with her infant in a backpack, asked a descending hiker: "Don't you feel the vortex?"
"No," the hiker replied, "only my aching legs."
Trail Guideclick to expand
Length: .7 miles one way
Trailhead Elevation: 4,072 feet
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
Payoff: 360-degree red-rock views
Getting There: From the junction of state routes 89A and 179 in Sedona, drive 3.5 miles south on SR 179 to Back O' Beyond Road and turn right. From there, go .6 miles to the trailhead parking lot.
Travel Advisory: A $5 Red Rock Pass is required to park. The machine in the parking lot accepts credit cards.
Information: 928-282-4119 or redrockcountry.org
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